Recognizing ADD/ADHD in Adults (Part 1)

In this, the second part of our series dealing with the incidence and treatment of adult ADD/ADHD, we will focus specifically on how the condition can be recognized in adults. This is obviously quite a difficult area since most adults don’t find themselves in highly regulated classroom environments where attention problems are almost bound to ‘show up’ if they exist. There are, however, certain signs that we should all be aware of in evaluating our own struggles to pay attention and focus. I will discuss these signs over the next two weeks. Please be aware that the presence of any of these factors does not mean that you are definitely dealing with ADD/ADHD. They should, however, serve as warning lights to alert you to seriously consider the possibility of its presence.

Sign 1: Childhood learning and attention problems. In the vast majority of cases the diagnosis of adult ADD/ADHD can be described as the discovery of a pre-existing condition rather than the identification of a more recent problem. To put it another way, if you have ADD/ADHD as an adult you most probably also had it as a child. Your first step, in attempting to identify adult ADD/ADHD, should therefore be to cast a critical look back over your childhood years. Could it be that you had particular problems with paying attention? That you were often described as a very fidgety child? Did activities that required sustained focus cause you major problems? You may even now deal with the consequences of some or all of these factors due to the fact that you were not able to excel academically, or in other areas, as you hoped you would. It should again be emphasized that noting these traits in your past does not automatically identify you as having ADD/ADHD. You should, however, ask some serious questions if they were indeed features of your past.
Sign 2: Difficulty concentrating and lack of focus. What is true for the childhood years will probably also be true for adulthood. You should therefore not only look back but also take a critical look at your current ability to concentrate and to stay focused. Adults with ADD/ADHD often find it extremely difficult to ‘stay on track’ while busy with their daily tasks. They find that they are extremely easily distracted, that they ‘bounce’ from activity to activity and that they are very easily bored. These types of symptoms are often very difficult to spot because people tend to think that that is ‘just the way they are’. The fact is, however, that where ADD/ADHD is actually identified in such cases, the lack of attention can very easily be dealt with, with massive increases in efficiency and productivity as a result.
Sign 3: Forgetfulness and Disorganization. All ‘scatterbrains’ do not have ADD/ADHD but extreme forgetfulness is certainly one of the major warning signs when it comes to adult ADD/ADHD. If you find that you:

  • are constantly late
  • underestimate how long tasks will take to complete
  • frequently lose objects of value
  • your workspaces are extremely cluttered

It might be worth investigating the possible reasons for the fact that your life is constantly hovering on the edge of chaos.
Sign 4: Hyper-Focus. It may seem paradoxical to associate focus with ADD/ADHD. Hyper-focus is, however, one of the most common signs of adult ADD/ADHD. This involves the ability pay sharply focused attention to a task or assignment that is of particular interest. This focus is often to the exclusion of everything else. The hypothesis is that hyper-focus evolved as a coping mechanism for those dealing with ADD/ADHD since it allows them to filter out the distractions than would normally frustrate their efforts to pay close attention to anything. Hyper-focus can obviously be a very positive thing if it is channeled in the right direction. There is, in fact, strong evidence that many of the creative geniuses of the past were able to get themselves ‘into the zone’ and concentrate fully on the task at hand. If it is, however, not channeled in the right direction it can actively harm relationships as complete isolation from what is going on around you is bound to irritate other people if used in the wrong contexts.
I want to emphasize, once again, that many of these signs often don’t register in our consciousness since we think that their presence is simply a reflection of our personalities. It might be a good idea therefore to ask someone close to you to give you honest feedback on these areas as a way of trying to determine whether the presence of these signs are so overwhelming that further investigation is required. Next week we will continue to discuss some of the more common signs of the presence of adult ADD/ADHD. See you then!